Join the party

Like Tweet Pin it Share Share Email

In election years past, I’ve avoided the temptation to endorse a particular candidate. This year might be different … but not this week.

But this week’s re-run from 2007 should give you a pretty good hint — maybe not of who I think you should vote for, but who you should vote against.

– Bob

I’m going to form a new political party — the Competence Party. Our platform: Competence does matter … a lot more than policy.

We’re already in the annoying run-up to the next presidential campaign. Here’s what you haven’t heard from any of the candidates: “If you elect me, I will appoint the best people to every position in government, and I define ‘best’ as ‘most qualified to effectively take care of the people’s business.'”

Here’s what you also haven’t heard: “As president, I will insist that everyone who works for me gives me the most accurate information possible — the information I need to hear, not the information I want to hear. I will base my decisions on this information. The only time I will trust my gut is when I decide what to eat.”

Anyone can present ideas that seem brilliant in sound bites and PowerPoint slides. It takes competence to make something useful happen. Most of what any administration ought to be doing is pretty much the same regardless of any policy specifics. That’s especially true if you inject competence into the process of policy formation, to weed out the alternatives that just won’t work.

If you think I’m singling out the current administration for criticism, I’m not, nor am I suggesting its predecessor prized competence more. Form your own conclusions about either or both.

This is about the next election. Based on the current round of speeches and debates, there are only three conclusions a reasonable person can draw. One is that the candidates think policy issues are all that matter — that if you’re headed in the right direction, then everything else will happen as if by magic. Another is that one or two candidates really do care about competence but are afraid to raise the issue for some reason. The third is that the candidates figure we citizens don’t think competence is important.

Nothing is more important.

If you want to join the Competence Party you have to accept the party’s platform. Raise your right hand, place your left on whatever book you want (the Competence Party doesn’t much care where or whether you worship, so long as you’re good at what you do) and vow to uphold these principles:

  • We will know what we want to accomplish, be clear in how we describe it, and know why it’s a good idea.
  • We will concentrate our efforts on a small number of important goals, recognizing that if we try to accomplish everything we’ll end up accomplishing nothing.
  • We will be realistic. We will choose courses of action only from among those possibilities predicated on all physical objects obeying the laws of physics, human nature not somehow changing for the better, and what has gone wrong in the past having something useful to teach us.
  • Our decisions will always begin by examining the evidence. And we will recognize that when our cherished principles collide with the evidence, the evidence wins. Every time.
  • With new evidence we will reconsider old decisions. Without it, we won’t.
  • We will never mistake our personal experience for hard evidence. Personal experience is the evidence we know best. It’s also a biased sample.
  • We will think first, plan next, and only then act. The only exception is a true emergency, where making any decision in the next two minutes is better than making the right decision sometime in the next several days.
  • We will never mistake hope for a plan. A plan describes what everyone has to do, in what order, to achieve a goal. Vague intentions and platitudes don’t.
  • We will sweat the details. Vague intentions and platitudes don’t have any, which is why those who stop with them always fail.
  • We will put the most qualified person we can find in every position. We’ll find some other way to reward high-dollar campaign contributors. Also, if we find someone is not able to succeed at what we’ve asked them to do, we’ll replace them with someone who is.
  • We will never blame anything on the law of unintended consequences. Our job is to foresee consequences, which we can usually do if we think things through.

No, I’m not really going to try to form the Competence Party. It’s enough of a challenge applying these principles to our day-to-day consulting work. I’m not really suggesting you join, either — you’ll have plenty to do applying them to your day-to-day leadership.

And, anyway, building a political party from scratch isn’t something I’m competent to do.

Comments (16)

  • I am a Hillary Clinton supporter and have been for a long time. I think she has upheld all the principles of the Competence Party, except possibly the L.O.U.C., at times.

    About 5 weeks ago, I decided to help man a “get out the vote” table for her, but was unable to find a paper of “talking points” for her, so I printed out all the position she had on her website. Without repetition, Clinton had 232 pages of positions and concrete solutions on her site. Agree or disagree with them, those positions are there and have been there for months, for public evaluation of their factual content.

    But when you are running against demagogues (Cruz, Sanders, and Trump), you need to employ a strategy specifically designed to work against demagogues. Whether they frown like Trump, smile like Sanders, or do both like Cruz, the speech of a demagogue is designed to increase anxiety, fear, fury, envy, and distrust of all others in the minds, and especially the hearts of listeners. To me, it’s like what we faced in Vietnam. We fought that war, as if we were fighting a great land army, but actually, we were fighting against a guerrilla army fighting for their country’s freedom. Obviously, the consequences were terrible.

    I believe that figuring out how to successfully campaign against a demagogue when you are a member of the Competency Party is a gravely serious problem.

    I learned something new when you when you said a few weeks ago, that if someone was acting in way that gets you feeling angry, you know you’re being “played”. But, if you are a voter, how do you listen to a debate to find out a demagogue’s positions and competency without getting played?

    In my ideal world, Hillary Clinton would be running against conservative Republican columnist, David Brooks. That would be a campaign worth listening to.

  • Great piece – still quite relevant. One update perhaps would be around social media – something about not crowd-sourcing government policy and actions.

  • A significant risk here is that, as Bob said is his recent rerun of Anger Management, “People are most vulnerable to … ideas they’re already predisposed to agree with…”. The positions that agree with our own sound like competency, while the positions that disagree with our own sound like demagoguery.

    • Oh, I dunno. Seems to me, positions that disagree with our own will sound misguided, not demagogic. Demagoguery is unmistakable – it tells you to be angry, and who to be angry with. Someone who presents a misguided opinion will be trying to persuade you to change your position.

      • You need to be more precise than that Bob. Every single one of these candidates is telling us to be angry with someone or something (whether the rich, or the poor in need of help, or the immigrant, or the , or the political establishment, etc). By your definition, they are all demagogues. Eureka! You’ve nailed it!

      • Well, yes, because it works. Still, demagoguery is a continuum, and to me it’s pretty clear how the candidates rank on it.

  • I was at the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the summer of 1970, when Elliot Richardson (the Al Gore of his time, a wooden former AG of Massachusetts, but a consummate leader of bureaucracy) replaced Robert Finch, a very popular LtGov of California, who was not. Within days, even at my intern level, we could tell the difference. Items and processes stuck for months starting flowing and kept it up, all the rest of the time I was there. Competence is not only rare, but situational; it requires a match between the person and the job. Finch was way better than Richardson at some things; but in running a large federal organization, Richardson was one of the best, perhaps of all time.

  • Since you invited posting something political.

    Neither Hillary nor Trump gets my vote. I could care less what position papers they publish or platform documents are supposed to define them. They are both old enough that they have track records – and that is what I am looking at.

    I probably would not vote in this election – except that lately I have been finding out more information about the Johnson/Weld ticket. Most election years a third party candidate is lucky to crack one percent interest and they usually do not make it on all of the states’ ballots (Trump almost missed Minnesota’s ballot because he is such a dog gone great businessman – that is sarcasm by the way).

    Anyway, Johnson and Weld sound much more mainstream than either Hillary or Trump. So far they are up to around 10% for polls that include them – and that with very little name recognition.

    I am still checking them out, but if they were as good of governors as they are claiming to be – then I will pick competence over whatever Hillary and Trump are pushing.

    Dan J

  • Bob — 9 years ago you concluded by saying you didn’t really plan to form such a party. It may be time to reconsider.

    There is clearly a competence gap between the candidates of the two major parties so I have no trouble with my decision. But I am bothered by how someone who should know better gets into some ridiculous situations. (Email servers, conflicts of interest). I can only assume that not everyone working for her has passed the competence test.

    To your broader point I think this is something we need to demand from the top of the power pyramid on down and in all aspects of our public life. (harder to do with family ;^) It is something we need to demand of ourselves. This is one I need to print and tape to my wall.

    Thanks, John

    • Hey, if someone wants to get the ball rolling, I’d be delighted to serve as strategist, evangelist, and general-purpose cheerleader.

      But I’m no more competent to be that person than I was nine years ago.

      Still, I appreciate the compliment.

  • ABC
    Sound ideas ‘cept next to last “will put the most qualified person we can find in every position”. My observation is that generally the only ones you get to “find” are those that want to play in that arena, and competence is not a required personal attribute. Just as in business, there are probably a whole host of folks capable of doing a good job if they really had control. The system limits that ability to succeed by resisting change and providing, to find, only those who have 1) got a really powerful mentor, 2) don’t rock the boat or 3) never done anything that they couldn’t blame someone else for. Just call me a cynic.

  • [This is off-topic, so I’ll understand if this never sees the light of day…] I ran across an nice article on the Delta (and Southwest) service interruptions because of power failures by Jonathan Hassell for Computerworld called “Lessons from high-profile IT failures”.

    It can be found at http://www.computerworld.com/article/3114125/backup-recovery/lessons-from-high-profile-it-failures.html?token=%23tk.CTWNLE_nlt_computerworld_dailynews_2016-08-31&idg_eid=d04b39b993e01f72134baf96d34bca1c&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Computerworld%20First%20Look%202016-08-31&utm_term=computerworld_dailynews#tk.CW_nlt_computerworld_dailynews_2016-08-31

    It’s a long link address, but if you can get it to work, it seemed to me that the article offered some pertinent information and thinking on the issue.

Comments are closed.